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Andrew Selous: I am greatly enjoying my hon. Friend's speech. Does he share my hope and enthusiasm that it is possible to do something positive to prevent family breakdown, which the Government loosely refer to as "household formation" in the context of the need for more housing, particularly by using the voluntary and community sectors? We do not have to be fatalistic and accept that the situation will get ever worse.
Sir Sydney Chapman: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I admire the interest that he takes in that area, in which I prefer not to trespassparticularly in this speech. Family break-ups are not the only reason why the number of householdsor, to use an awful statistical term, dwelling unitshas increased. People are living longer, so there are more widows and widowers, andI do not want to exaggerate this pointsome people can afford home ownership at an earlier age than of yesteryear, but certainly not in my constituency, because of the huge cost of new housing.
I want to say a few words about the alternatives. I cannot speak with authority about the Government's plans to increase housing provision in particular areas of the south-eastI do not know enough about Milton Keynes and would not presume to discuss the merits of Ashford in Kent. I hazard the opinion that the Thames gateway is one of the right places in which to provide extra housing. In the past, it badly needed economic regeneration, and that regeneration is now taking place.
I part company with the Government on their proposal to increase the supply of housing in what they call "the M11 corridor", from Cambridge down to London. If that comes about, it will be a devastating blow to the green belt policy, which protects our great conurbations. I must declare an interest: I was president of the London Green Belt Council for many yearswhen I became a Minister, it kindly made me an honorary member, because I could no longer remain as president. For the past 60 years, the green belt policy has been one of the most dramatically successful post-war planning policies. If the rules on establishing green belts are altered, the system will break down irretrievably. Although I understand the problems, I hope that this Government's policy is like that of all previous Governments in my lifetime. Until a few weeks ago, the Government stated that green belts are inviolable and should be protected.
The green belt is not the same as greenfield sites, because many greenfield sites are not part of the green belt. Given the choice, most people would, if they could afford it, like to have a house with a nice green field behind it and live in a semi-rural, rather than suburban, prospect. However, it would be naive for anybody to state that we can provide all the housing that we need by using brownfield sites. That is clearly not the case and some building must take place on greenfield sites.
I want to talk about an issue that is not peculiar to my constituencyit causes great consternation in outer London boroughs and, doubtless, in the suburban areas of other great cities and towns. The character of some pleasant suburban areas is being changed for the worse by developers, who buy up rather nice Victorian or Edwardian family homes, knock them down and obtain planning permission to turn the quarter-acre gardens into off-street tarmacadam parking and blocks of flats. In fairness, developers do that because of the demand
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for extra households due to the British nation's changing demography, but, in my view, that practice has destroyed many areas. When such homes must be pulled down, we should employ more imaginative designsincidentally, demand for such homes still exists, so it is not as if they will be left empty unless they are redeveloped.
It is sterile to argue across the Floor of the House about whether 60 per cent. or 65 per cent. of new housing should be built on brownfield sites. We must use brownfield sites where we can, but they will succeed only if two things are done. First, since brownfield sites are almost universally expensive to redevelop, financial help must be provided. I would like to see the Government use section 106 agreements for planning permissionI do not wholly agree with that concept, because it verges on the corruptto pay for the extra costs of developing brownfield sites. However, it is no use building on such sites unless people want to live there. Joined-up government is required to provide the right infrastructure, including not only roads and sewers, but schools. We must deal with crime, give people defensible spaces and make people feel safe in urban areas.
No simple, one-stop solution exists to the provision of sites for housing. We have to be imaginative and to use a range of solutions that very much depend on the site. The mistake that we made after the war, when there was a desperate housing shortage, was to think that we could have only high-density development with high-rise blocks of flatsCoronation streets turned on end. Generally speaking, that has been a social failure. We need to use architects and exciting and innovative methods to create comfortable high-density, but relatively low-level, development.
I want to make one further point that is intended to be a constructive suggestion. I cannot claim to speak with the authority that I might once have done about other great cities such as Manchester or Birmingham, but I can say that London is unique in this sense: it is the only city where more than 50 per cent. of people who come in to work use public transport. There is less need for someone to have a private vehicle in London than in any other city in the world. I am not campaigning for the next electionindeed, I am not standingby saying, "You shouldn't have a car if you live in London", but I believe that sufficient numbers of people would welcome living in specially designed areas of our capital city where no cars are permitted, making it not only cleaner, but more environmentally friendly. Of course there must be provision for emergency services to come in. I am not only suggesting that all parking should be banned, but an area designed to have no cars and no through trafficI am not talking about conventional pedestrianised high streetscould be a success. I ask the Government to consider that. It could be immensely popular, and if it took off, it could make living in our cities a much more pleasant experience.
The challenge is to meet people's needs in a cleaner, friendly environment. Parts of our cities are a disgrace to any nation that calls itself civilised. We must do something to bring people back into our cities instead of spreading ever further into suburbia.
Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab):
I am delighted to participate in this Queen's Speech debate and to follow the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet
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(Sir Sydney Chapman). The hon. Gentleman said that he first fought a parliamentary election 40 years ago, but he spoke with all the passion of someone participating in his first Gracious Speech debate. I am sorry to hear that he will be retiring at the next election; I am sure that he will be greatly missed by his constituents and by Members on both sides of the House, because he has always shown us great courtesy. He spoke today with great knowledge and passion. I am sure that when he retires, and no longer has to declare an interest, he will be transferred from being honorary president of the London Green Belt Council to being once again its proper president.
The comments made by the Secretary of State for Transport are most welcome. I am glad to hear about the Government's proposals, which will surely make our transport better, if not solve the problems completely. I want to raise a couple of parochial issues that I hope that the Government will seek to address this year, if not as part of the proposed legislation, in other measures. I shall then turn to other aspects of the Gracious Speech.
I spend at least 10 hours of my week on the M1in fact, I have worked out that I spend more time on the M1 than playing with my children. That may be a reflection of my sad life, but I think that it is more a reflection of the problems with our motorway system. I hope that the Government will ensure that more action is taken to ensure that traffic flows on our major roads are worked out much more efficiently. I still cannot understand why we are held in traffic jams on the M1 for several hours, get to the point where we think that the problem is, then find that there is nothing there. That is one of the great mysteries, and I hope that measures will be introduced to deal with it.
In Leicester, we have, only this week, gone some way towards reducing our transport and traffic problems. Leicester City football clubthe Foxesagreed to merge its ownership of the Walker's stadium with the Leicester Tigers. It is not quite Cardiff Arms park, but I hope that it means that on a Saturday we will no longer experience the congestion caused by two major matches taking place at the same time.
I welcome the Government's proposal to establish the commission for equality and human rights, which will bring together a host of organisations under one commission. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Women and Equality has listened to the views of hon. Members and of the black and Asian community outside this House and altered her proposals accordingly. I remind the House that the Government had proposed to abolish the Commission for Racial Equality and to merge it with other bodies such as the Equal Opportunities Commission into one single equality commission. I opposed that, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), many organisations, including the 1990 Trust, which is led by Karen Chauhan, and the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips.
There was a consultation period, at the end of which the Government produced a new set of proposals that are enshrined in the Gracious Speech. That means that we will have a single equality commission bringing together all the other groups, but the CRE will be left
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outside its ambit and is free to join, if it wishes to do so, by 2009. I have often heard hon. Members say that they have put forward proposals to the Government but they have not listened. This is a classic example of Ministerwho has a great deal of interest in the affairs of the Asian community because she represents, as I do, the city of Leicesterhaving listened to the concerns of the community and of right hon. and hon. Members and put forward a new proposal. It will be welcomed by the CRE, as it has by other groups. Given that there is so much support for the new Commission I hope that the Opposition will support the Government's proposals, thus ensuring that they get through as quickly as possible. It is also part of the Government's commitment to a multicultural society.
That is why I also welcome the legislation to outlaw religious discrimination. It is long overdue. The Prime Minister made the announcement a few weeks ago and it is to be enshrined in legislation. That reminds us how precious our multicultural society is. I know that these days it is not fashionable to talk about multicultural Britain. Some people have suggested that the history of Britain over the past 30 years with its multiculturalism has been a mistake. I disagree.
Yesterday, I was in The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam meeting with members of the black and Asian community, particularly the Somali community, and looking at what has happened in the Netherlands over the past couple of weeks. A particular individual made some awful statements about the Muslim community. His fate was to be stabbed to death on the streets of Amsterdam. His fate was then transferred to the fate of the Muslim community. Since that awful stabbing 11 mosques have been the subject of arson attacks.
It is strange in a mainstream European country like the Netherlands to have a problem like this. It has focused the attention of the people there and reminded the pro-Europeans among us of the importance of celebrating the different cultures in Europe. We take our multicultural system for granted here in the United Kingdom. It is extremely important that we are vigilant in protecting the rights of the minority communities. We have a leadership role in providing the rest of Europe with the knowledge, capacity and capability to show how it is possible to integrate communities.
In Rotterdam I asked why more than 20,000 Somalians with Dutch passports chose to come and live in Leicester and Birmingham rather than stay in Rotterdam. The Somali community answered that they felt much safer in the United Kingdom than in mainland Europe, particularly in a place like Rotterdam. That upsets the Dutch and they want to know what they can do about it. The Government's proposed legislation represents the right approach for the black and Asian community and for multicultural Britain.
These proposals need to be supported, but we have to be careful on issues, such as identity cards and the security measures that we are introducing, to ensure that we carry those communities with us. It is right that those who are a threat to national security should be the subject of intense inquiry. The police need to have powers to deal with people who behave in such a way. However, there is a perception among sections of the Muslim community and, indeed, immediately after 9/11, among members of the Sikh community, that they are
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being targeted. It is important, therefore, that the police in exercising the new powers that Parliament will give them, should we pass the legislation, are able to work with the communities. Good police officers, like Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Commissioner designate, understand the need to work with communities. In pushing forward legislation for identity cards and legislation that will increase police powers, we need to make sure that we bring the communities with us.
I turn now briefly to two other aspects of the Gracious Speech, one of which concerns the constitutional reforms that we introduced last Session. The Government are right to proceed with these and to ensure that legislation which did not pass last year is carried forward. We all accept that the way in which the office of Lord Chancellor was purported to be abolished in the reshuffle was done with haste. Even Lord Falconer agrees with that. He certainly said so when he came to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee. Over the last year, by debating this subject, people have accepted the need for a modern, dynamic legal system. The senior judiciarypeople like Lord Woolf and Lord Binghamhave accepted the need for a supreme court, the fact that we need a modernised system for the appointment of judges, that it is wrong for one person to appoint judges, and that we should have a judicial appointments commission. There remains a question over whether the title of Lord Chancellor remains. Lord Falconer has won everyone over to the argument for preventing the Lord Chancellor sitting as Speaker of the House of Lords, as a judge and in the Cabinet. He has fought a persuasive campaign. However, there is an attachment to the title of Lord Chancellor. I for one should like to see it retained, even though it does not have the powers that the old Lord Chancellor's Office had. So I hope that Opposition Members will understand what the Government propose to do on constitutional reform. We cannot have a constitution that looks back 500 years; we must have a modern constitution that is able to react to modern circumstances.
Another proposal in the Gracious Speech is to have a referendum on the European constitution. Obviously, before we have a referendum, a Bill has to go through Parliament and we will have to debate this important issue. Since the Prime Minister announced the need for a referendum, which we understand will take place in early 2006no date or timetable has been setthere has been a lack of debate in the House and by Ministers on the role of Britain in Europe.
I welcome the fact that we shall have a referendum because it will be a unique opportunity for the House, for Ministers and for the people of this country to engage fully in a debate about what Britain is doing in the European Union. These are times of huge change in the EU. A new Commission has just been appointed. We have a European Parliament that is prepared to acknowledge and use its powers. We have a new initiative on the Lisbon agenda. The recent European Council has agreed to take the Tampere agenda forward. So great things are happening in the EU.
The Prime Minister's wish when he was elected in 1997 was to move Britain into the heart of Europe, and that is exactly what he has done in the past eight years or so. It is now essential that we tell the people of Britain
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what we are doing in Europe. If we do not, those who do not support our membership of the EU will use the referendum debate to call for our withdrawal.
When I was coming back from listening to the Gracious Speech delivered by Her Majesty, I walked with a Member of the House who can only be described as Eurosceptic. He is very principled; he has stuck to that position for all the 17 years that I have been in the House and the 20 or so that he has been here. I have not asked him whether I could mention his name, so I shall not because it would be wrong to do so, but he said that he welcomed the constitutional debate and the Bill because for the first time it gave countries the opportunity to withdraw from the EU if they chose to do so.
So the House never knows, it may be that Opposition Members who are against Britain even being part of the EU will support the Bill because for the first time it will give them a constitutional right to come out of the EU. Our Government have done great things in the EU. I want them to go out and campaign. I have gone through all the speeches of Cabinet Ministers since April this year on their websites and they have not mentioned Europe or the euro more than 12 times. We cannot win a referendum on the European constitution unless we are prepared to go out and fight for the principle of being in the EU. I hope that the debate on the Bill will give the House and the Government the opportunity to follow the lead that has been given by the Prime Minister in the past seven years and ensure that we have a strong and unequivocal commitment to being part of the EU.
I have spoken in a number of debates on the Gracious Speech. I am convinced that the package of proposals that have been put forward by the Prime Minister in the past few days and in the debate today are the right proposals for Britain. They are certainly the right ones for my constituents, who will welcome every piece of legislation that has been proposed. I hope that we shall have the parliamentary time to get all the Bills through the House and onto the statute book. I know that some people think that there may well be an election next year. Only the Prime Minister knows. I hope that we will have the time to debate these measures, all of which will help our country. All of them will ensure that the quality of life of our constituents and the citizens of Britain will be made much better.
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